September 3, 2013

Festool Carvex 420 Jigsaw - Review

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We've been waiting on the Festool Carvex for a while...maybe almost three years since we first heard about it. We got a chance to play with one at the JLC show a few years back and at the time it seemed like the jigsaw that would solve all of our jigsaw problems (accuracy, straight cuts, tight scrolls, etc). Then we heard that its release was delayed...and it disappeared for a while...but now it's here. When Festool offered to send us one to check out, we hopped at the opportunity. This one looks like it has it all. And as it turns out, it does have it all. But only if "all" includes a functionality problem that unfortunately cancels out much of the good that it has to offer and makes it a tool we can't recommend. A real and total bummer.

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We'll start with the good. And there is a lot of good. The high point to us is the strobe that flickers on the blade. The four LEDs are actually timed to the blade stroke so they give the impression that the blade is standing still. Without a blurry blade, the accuracy that this tool can attain is pretty well off the charts, at least compared to all of the other jigsaws we've used.

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The handling is great too. As is always the case, Festool delivers a solid tool that may be a little larger than some of the others and maybe a little heavier, but it just has that heft of quality. The metal parts, the ease of the switch, and the way the adjustments turn, click, or move all indicate a level of standards that is uncommon in the tool industry.

There are also the little Festool touches like the extremely nice dust extraction and the cord that can hinge up at the butt-end of the tool giving you just a little more room in those tight spaces.

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Available for the tool are three main footplates (Festool also sent us the accessory kit); the standard fixed base (the only one that comes with the tool); a base compatible with their track system; and the one that's hinged in the center for angled cuts. The pad area of the fixed base can be swapped out with a variety of pieces that are designed for specific surfaces and applications. The fixed base cannot bevel from side to side and the hinged base can only bevel from the center point. And this is where the wheels start to come off...

The available footplate configurations present what we feel is a fatal flaw to the tool. One that makes it, in our opinion, nearly unusable as a jigsaw. Basically, the Carvex cannot back-cut a scribe. The 'wings' of the hinged base move in unison: they're either both heading upward, or both heading downward. This is great if you're trying to ride the saw long the end of a board cutting a 45 degree miter at the leading edge, but what if you want that miter to be 1/2-inch in from the edge of the board....or 1/4-inch in? You can't do it. And that to us is insane.

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It sorta looks like a waddling penguin

When I say "back-cut a scribe," what I mean is this. As a carpenter installing something like baseboard, chair-rail, or a cabinet face frame, if I'm installing against an uneven surface, like an old (or new) plaster wall, I'm going to scribe the piece in for a tight fit. What I do, and what every carpenter I've ever met does, is put a little back bevel on the cut. That way a thinner piece of the material is touching the wall, reducing the unevenness that I have to deal with. It also makes it very easy for me to fine tune the scribe with a block plane. I can just make the one cut with the jigsaw that is 99% there and then clean up any proud spots while I'm installing it.

The funky footplates of the Carvex prohibit this common task from taking place. Because the wings of the beveling footplate move together, you can only rest the saw on the 'away' side of the cut...where, in my baseboard situation, there is nothing to support it. I took some pictures to better explain.

Here is a Bosch saw making a back-cut like I'm describing. Notice how much of the footplate is resting on the workpiece, ensuring stability and a nice, crisp, even cut.

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Here is the Carvex, dropped into the same blade channel (I didn't even bother make a new cut with the saw because it can't do it). Look at how the saw is supported against the workpiece...yeah, right....it's not. Huh?

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And this is a problem. It's a big problem. A massive, crazy-assed, wtf problem. Back-cutting scribes is why I own a jigsaw in the first place. It's basically all I do with the tool. Imagine if someone released an orbital sander that wasn't compatible with 60, 80, or 100 grit sandpaper. It's sort of like that. I think it's cool that Festool came up with this neat footplate system and in theory the hinged one is a real winner, but to have all of this pizazz at the expense of one of the most basic tasks of a jigsaw is baffling. This is not some esoteric, once-in-a-lifetime cut we're trying to make. It's a simple controlled bevel along the edge of a board. That the Carvex can't do this is absolutely bonkers.

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We contacted Festool and described what we were trying to do to see if we were missing something and they told us that the Collins coping foot was the way to go (even though there isn't one available yet that is compatible with the Carvex...so there's that). That's fine for the butt end of a piece of crown molding, but not a long scribe on a baseboard. Plus, the coping foot doesn't provide a flat surface for the tool to ride against, so there's not going to be any accuracy in the bevel angle.

But, we discovered, it is possible to make this cut...but it's tricky. If you cut from the underside of the board, you can do it. It's a very awkward proposition and there's still no guaranteed success. Because of the funky bevel footplate, it's extremely difficult to hold the saw and keep the functional half of the footplate flat against the board. Remember, you're holding the saw under the board, beveled away from you while trying to keep the blade accurate on your line. No problems, right?

Like I said, the hinged footplate is cool and before we used the tool, we were awed by it. But now that we think about it (and add to that the fact that we're a little jaded by the Carvex's lack of basic functionality), we can't think of any occasions where that footplate would come in handy. Maybe for a woodworker, but not a carpenter. Is it often that you need to cut a 45 along an inside corner?

The Carvex is $350. Which is waaaay more than most jigsaws out there. And that's doesn't even include a beveling footplate at all, just the flat one. You can pick up a basic/good jigsaw for around $80 and the higher end ones sit around $150. If the Carvex could handle the ground floor tasks, the amazing build-quality of the tool would make it well worth the money, but it can't, so it isn't.

It's a real bummer that a tool this nice has such a gaping hole in it. But here, it's sadly the case.

At FestoolProducts.com

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Posted by Doug Mahoney at September 3, 2013 9:50 PM

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Recent Comments

yea sometimes the festool guys are too clever by half. thats a common operation and you explained it well so my thanks. its like the track saws; they're great but for the money couldn't the tracks be heavier and sturdier? a shifiting load in the back of the truck could put a slight bend or ding in them and then they're useless. I treat mine like jewelry but worry about them especially if a junior carpenter or laborer is handling them.


Posted by: david at September 22, 2013 4:38 PM

Hi Carl, the video shows something different. If you look at my pictures, I'm trying to back cut the board, so the tool needs to lean away from the workpiece. The video only shows it going the other way (which it can do no problem).

Jeff, that doesn't work either, the other leg of the footplate is either in the way (L) or not doing anything at all (V). With it in the L formation, you can't move the tool in towards the center of the board like you would need to on a scribe.

Frank, you could make a modification, maybe a piece of plexiglass or something...if you wanted to modify a $350 tool to do something basic....but yeah, like I tried to say in the review, otherwise it's a very nice jigsaw. There's just the beveling problem that I can't get over. But if you're cool with that or creating some modification, you'll likely love the saw.


Posted by: toolsnob at September 13, 2013 6:16 PM

I am very confused. On the Festool video on YouTube, they show the Carvex doing exactly what you want to do:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhLQgMWF_ts


Posted by: Carl at September 13, 2013 5:56 PM

If you adjust the footplate into a L shape versus the V as shown in the photo you can back cut that way correct?


Posted by: Jeff Gonzalez at September 10, 2013 11:15 AM

Interesting... I usually don't even adjust the foot plate when I make back cuts on scribe lines. I literally just tilt the saw back on the edge of its foot plate and make the cut. I think I saw Tom Silva doing it that way once, so I just kept doing it because it seems to work well enough. Plus, I only ever tilt it back about 5-degrees or so. Don't have to be too exact with the bevel because you're never going to see the back side of the workpiece. I can see how my method might be dangerous for some idiot homeowner/DIY-'er who doesn't know what he's doing, though. Does Festool include a regular foot plate that stays perpendicular to the blade? I do agree with you in that the waddling penguin base seems to be a solution where there was never really a problem.

JW


Posted by: Jason at September 9, 2013 12:48 AM

There's bound to be a simple and quick mod to fix the back bevel issue. A little homemade beveled plate, something. And most likely the solution will so slick and so cool that it will completely blow the doors off fiddling with hex wrenches, right? So now, with that behind us what I'm hearing is that you think this is one heck of a fine jigsaw and well worth the money, correct?


Posted by: Frank Shannon at September 7, 2013 9:25 PM

excellent review. I find it strange how this issue wasnt resolved in the 2/3 years the carvex has been out in Europe, even stranger was the response by festool of thinking a non available, 3rd party aftermarket product like a coping foot would be an acceptable solution.



Posted by: Kevin at September 7, 2013 7:20 PM

Thanks. You saved me from selling a perfectly good Trion and throwing good money after bad. I'm sure they'll fix it so ill wait for the traditional base.


Posted by: Gregor at September 7, 2013 9:47 AM

Yeah, that's the killer part of the whole thing. The Carvex really does just about everything better than the Bosch. The blade is really stable, it's accurate, and it handles really well. It would be awesome if it had a standard footplate.


Posted by: toolsnob at September 5, 2013 8:43 PM

Well, if you so dislike it, I would be happy to relieve you from ever using it again :P

Kidding and dreaming aside, that is too bad to hear. Definitely like the LED feature. I have the bosch eb572 and am quite fond of it. Anything you feel like the carvex does better than the bosch?


Posted by: John S at September 5, 2013 4:37 PM
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